DVD Review: The Big Year

Hi again!

Who knew that bird watching, or “Birding” as it’s called by those who pursue it, was a cutthroat pursuit? We have quite a few birds in Colorado, but I have to admit that beyond knowing the difference between some of the birds of prey (Red Tailed Hawks have red tails!) I’m pretty uneducated as far as the different species locally, let alone nationally or internationally.

That said, The Big Year (released on DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday, January 31, 2012) is as much about educating people about the birds as the people who follow them. Narrated by John Cleese (A Fish Called Wanda, Monty Python’s Flying Circus), the film shifts between “documentary” mode and regular “movie” mode with the characters in motion. The film stars Steve Martin (The Jerk, Father of the Bride), Jack Black (Kung Fu Panda), and Owen Wilson (Wedding Crashers) as birders all pursuing “The Big Year” – a year-long quest to spot as many different bird species in a single year. And each of the characters comes from a different place in their life.

Black plays Brad Harris, a character in his 30s at a crossroads. In a job he hates with a string of failed relationships, he’s passionate about one thing – birds. Can he complete a “Big Year” and get some self confidence back?

Martin plays Stu Preissler, a character at the end of his career pondering retirement and enjoying time with his family and hobbies like birding. He keeps getting pulled back into the business he built because it “won’t survive without him,” which interrupts his retirement plans over and over again.

And Wilson plays Kenny Bostick, a character with multiple failed marriages and another one dying on the vine. He has to choose between his wife who wants to start a family and staying at the top of his game with the most bird species spotted in a single year.

This trio of birders manage to explore some of the most gorgeous parts of the country – Florida, Alaska, East Coast, West Coast, they really racked up the frequent flier miles. Beautiful scenery and bird footage (both real and CGI) along the way make it as much a travelogue as anything else.

Along the way these folks interact with some very colorful characters played by an all-star cast. Joel McHale (TV’s Community) and Kevin Pollack (Red State) play lawyers from Martin’s firm. Jim Parsons (TV’s Big Bang Theory) plays a blogging birder who writes about encounters with other birding aficionados. Angelica Huston (50/50) plays the captain of a tour boat that caters to birding expeditions. Brian Dennehy (The Next Three Days) and Diane Wiest (In Treatment) play Black’s parents who eventually understand their son’s passion. Anthony Anderson (Scream 4) plays Black’s boss. Rashida Jones (TV’s Parks and Recreation) plays a fellow birder who Black pursues romantically…

Though I enjoyed the film, I can see why this film didn’t do very well at the box office. The trailers portrayed it as more of a comedy and it ended up being a dramedy/documentary mix with a few comedic moments and a lot of character drama. With three big-name comedic actors in the movie and little comedy I suspect that word of mouth may have killed ticket sales.

That said, I think this film on DVD, Blu-ray, and on demand will get a fair amount of play. The great cast and director David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada, Marley & Me) worked well to tell three intertwined stories and explore the realm of bird watching in a fun way.

Unfortunately I was disappointed with the lack of special features on the DVD. Two versions of the film were included – the theatrical version and the extended version. The Blu-ray seems to have many more features, including a Gag Reel which I would have liked to have seen on the DVD.

Overall, I recommend The Big Year to anyone looking for a bit different viewing experience. The great cast, beautiful scenery, and a bit of education makes the film work great.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

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DVD Review: Rock Slyde

Hi there…

Rock Slyde aspires to be a noir detective flick in the vein of Raymond Chandler‘s stories or the classic Steve Martin comedy Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid. To say it missed the vein completely and should have been put out of its misery hits a bit closer to the truth.

I think thought Patrick Warburton could do no wrong after such great roles in TV’s Rules of Engagement and The Tick. He’s even funny when you just hear him do his voiceover roles for cartoons – as with Kronk in The Emperor’s New Groove or as the sheriff the recent reboot of Scooby-Doo Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated. Evidently not even Patrick’s brand of funny is the Midas touch.

In Rock Slyde, Warburton plays the title character – Private Detective Rock Slyde. And through the bad jokes, the juvenile sight gags, and the fictitious musical gay porno, it goes downhill from the beginning.

Also appearing in the film are Andy Dick as Bart, the founder of the cult of Bartology; Rena Sofer as femme fatale Sara Lee; Elaine Hendrix as Slyde’s secretary/assistant Judy Bee; Jason Alexander as Mailman Stan, a fan of musical gay pornos; Eric Roberts as Jake the Deliveryman; Lea Thompson as a Master Bartologist; Tom Bergeron as Randy Wonder, the owner of Wonderburger; and Brian Bosworth as “The Friendly Pirate” in the bad pirate porno…

The last time I thought Andy Dick was funny was on NewsRadio in the mid ’90s. His character Bart is a Dr. Evil (Austin Powers) wannabe. Sofer is beautiful and I’ve liked her recent roles as self-assured, powerful women on NCIS and Bones, but her role as a lonely damsel in distress didn’t work. And it’s bad when Tom Bergeron, host of America’s Funniest Home Videos has one of the funnier scenes as a Bartologist firing one of his workers at the burger joint simply because the all mighty Bart tells him to.

It’s not as if there isn’t any talent here. But I’m always amazed when a great cast can’t save a movie. It’s happened before, I know. Not every film can be great. Some can’t even be mediocre. But Rock Slyde proves that actors can’t save a script that simply isn’t funny.

In addition to the movie itself, there’s also a “Behind the Scenes” feature that isn’t much more than numerous clips literally shot behind the scenes of the actors and crew as they filmed the movie. There are a few amusing moments, but nothing that really saves the film.

Ultimately, this movie was a waste of time. Unless you’re into fictitious musical gay pornography, I’d skip Rock Slyde all together. Though I still think Warburton has an amazing gift for comedy, he couldn’t save this movie from itself.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. If you really want to see this film, there’s a link below, but I’d recommend checking out some of Warburton’s other work instead.

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DVD Review: Pink Panther 2

Hi everyone…

I’ll be among the first to admit that I’m a huge fan of Steve Martin. His intelligent, yet zany gift for acting, comedy, and slapstick makes him unique. I’ll also be the first to admit that the first Pink Panther (2006) wasn’t that great a film. It had its moments, but never really worked for me.

So when I had a chance to review Pink Panther 2, I hesitated. However, it has such a great cast I had to see how it turned out. And I’m glad I did. I actually liked it a lot more than the first one.

Pink Panther 2 picks up a while after the first movie ends. Chief Inspector Dreyfus (played beautifully by John Cleese) has assigned Jacque Clouseau (Steve Martin) to serving parking tickets. Since Clouseau stole the credit for saving the Pink Panther diamond from Dreyfus, the Chief Inspector has worked hard to keep the bumbling Inspector out of his way. Unfortunately, Clouseau is requested to become part of a “Dream Team” of international detectives working to stop a series of high profile thefts around the world by a thief known as “The Tornado.”

[rating:2.5/4]

To find these artifacts (including the Magna Carta, the Shroud of Turin, and an ancient Samurai sword as well as the Pope’s ring and the Pink Panther diamond), the Dream Team investigates the site of the most recent theft of the diamond and begin piecing together what The Tornado is up to. Inspector Vicenzo (Andy Garcia) from Italy, Chief Inspector Randall Pepperidge (Alfred Molina) from New Scotland Yard, Kenji Mazumoto (Yuki Matsuzaki) from Japan, and Sonia Solandres (Aishwarya Rai), a biographer of The Tornado, work with Clouseau to solve the case. Of course, it’s not that simple. Clouseau manages to bumble his way through crime scenes, interviews, press encounters, and so on, but eventually the case is solved.

Along the way we encounter Mrs. Berenger (the always amazing Lily Tomlin), who acts as the politically correctness advisor for the French Police. She and Clouseau have some highly amusing scenes where we learn more of the Inspector’s ways of looking at the world, including one scene about sexual harassment which is hilarious and another about racial discrimination. Tomlin and Martin haven’t worked together since 1984’s All of Me, and the give and take relationship between them is still apparent.

We also see more of the relationship between Clouseau and Nicole Durant (Emily Mortimer). The flashback scene between the two at a restaurant in Rome includes one of the most amazing bits of slapstick and comic timing that I have seen in a very long time. As Clouseau attempts to pick out a wine for their dinner date, he bumps into the wine rack and bottles begin falling. Martin manages to juggle the bottles to the waiters in the restaurants as they fall, and does so with Clouseau style. That scene appears fairly early in the film and kept me watching to the end.

Overall, I think Pink Panther 2 was a much funnier film than the first one. The interactions between the actors – Garcia, Molina, Matsuzaki, and Rai – with Martin were always well done. You could tell the cast had a great time working together as an ensemble. And seeing Tomlin and Martin together again was a thrill.

In addition to the movie itself, the DVD includes three features…

The “Gag Reel” is a great collection of gaffes and mistakes from the filming. The camaraderie was readily apparent between all the cast and crew. And who wouldn’t have fun working with these great actors?

“Drama is Easy… Comedy is Dangerous” focused on the many comedic stunts in the film. Martin still has a gift for physical comedy that in my mind is rivaled only by John Cleese, who was also in the film. The directors and producers spoke about the difficulty of having a film more physically demanding.

And in “A Dream Team Like No Other”, we get to hear from more of the cast about working together. This is an amazing group of talented professionals and it’s great to hear from each of them — Martin, Reno, Mortimer, Molina, Garcia, Matsuzaki, and Rai.

All in all, I have to say I really enjoyed Pink Panther 2 and look forward to seeing what happens if there are more Pink Panther films. Though this movie didn’t do well at the box office, I think it will do well on DVD. Be sure to pick up a copy at your local rental store or retailer.

–Fitz

p.s. Click here to pick up The Pink Panther and other goodies from Amazon!

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